• Gabbai

Shemot – The Eyes of the Heart

Baby Moses, rescued from the basket in the Nile River, grew up under Pharaoh’s nose and under Egyptian influence. Accounts differ on how he knew of his ancestry. Hollywood would have us believe that a garment he had been wrapped in as a baby gave away the secret. More likely his mother, who was engaged by the Pharaoh’s daughter to nurse him until he was weaned, communicated his identity to him during those early years. In any event, as an adult Moses knew his identity. The verse tells us that Moses toured the country and was moved by the plight of his brethren.

“And it was in those days and Moses grew up and he went out to his brethren and he saw their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man from his brothers.” (Exodus 2:11)

Rashi cites the Midrash on the phrase “and he saw their burdens,” explaining that Moses empathized with them. He placed his eyes and heart to be troubled over them. He did not merely view with his eyes, it was not enough for him to be aware of their plight, he saw with his heart, he related to them with emotion. The Mahara”l in his volume Gur Aryeh remarks that Moses would have seen the Hebrews toiling away many times, as by now he was already an adult. What was different this time was his decided connection to their suffering.

Moses was very different from the average Jew slaving in the heat to make bricks. Moses was wealthy, educated and refined. His place was in the upper crust of Egyptian nobility. The Midrash notes that Moses was placed in command of Pharaoh’s estate. How could he relate to lowly slaves? What connection could exist between the Hebrews and Moses?

The scholar and Kabbalist Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz writes in his commentary the Shela”h that Moses came from lineage in which connection to the tribe was embedded. Levi, the great grandfather of Moses, had three sons, and he named them Gershon, Kehat and Merari. These names, explains the Shela”h were carefully chosen by Levi to reflect his concern that his descendant should remain connected to the family and their heritage. Gershon was not a common name and is not found elsewhere in Tanach. (It is fairly common today, thanks to Levi’s innovation). The first syllable of the name, Ger, means ‘stranger.’ Shom, the second syllable means ‘there.’ Anticipating that his descendants would be strangers in a place far from their ancestral home Levi named his first son with the vision of counteracting the effects of exile.

The name of his second son Kehat is similar to the word Keheh, meaning ‘dim’ or ‘blunt,’ from the phrase in the four sons of the Haggada ‘blunt the teeth of the wicked son.’ This also relates the the suffering and blunting of spirit caused by the enslavement. The third son was named Merari, from the word maror, meaning ‘bitter,’ also referring to the enslavement. The descendants of Jacob were now decades into the enslavement, but Moses was even more exiled than they were. They were still together, working shoulde